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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Goblin fixed sexism!

Obviously the title is meant facetiously. While I have a respect for the knowledge of everyone's favorite goblin with regards to making money in games, I fear this time he's let his ego pull him unprepared into a new arena he is unfamiliar with. Here is the link to his post, and here are the links to the Tropes vs. Women videos he refers to.

Trigger warning: Mentions of rape jokes. Murder. War

Be warned, the post below is quite long, and sadly does not lend itself to a tl;dr any better than what I said above.
“I coined the 'The Devil is sexist' term when I heard some feminist being outraged that in Africa various militias mass-rape women. What the good feminist forgot that the same militias also killed the women. And the men. And the children. And burned the villages. "The Devil is sexist" term refers to feminists focusing on the sexism of something that is overall terrible and sexism is its smallest issue.”
This is a permutation of “feminists miss the forest for the trees”. With this same logic we could ignore basically every problem with gaming…ever. “This weapon is imbalanced” would be countered with “Well the entire game has imbalance issues, stop focusing on that one.” Just because there are problems that might be considered larger or that affect more people, does not mean that we should ignore all of the others. Why should I bother feeding the poor, or worrying about people having healthcare, when there is a meteor that might hit us at any time and wipe out humanity? All you charities are wasting your time, we need to donate to NASA or EVERYONE is going to DIE! We can go around and around about how A is actually a bigger problem than B, but that does not inherently mean that B should not be addressed.

The problem is that the Goblin assumes that people are not outraged by the other conduct; I personally would find the acts of the militias reprehensible, but the rape is especially bad. In other words, feminists are angry about the whole thing, but one aspect stands out as falling under their focus...just like how a children's rights group would be especially inflamed by the murder of children despite the murder of others. There is no inherent division unless you are reading it as “Feminists don’t care about the men and kids getting killed, only the woman being raped and killed,” which is untrue, and is basically a textbook strawman.
“The "Damsel in distress" cliché in video games is a typical "The Devil is sexist" issue: in contemporary gaming everything is just a tool to advance the story of the player.”
This was never in dispute, and Anita even acknowledges this. The issue is that the damsel in distress is OVER used and almost never examined or significantly altered. The video provided dozens of examples of modern and popular games that rely heavily on the trope. No one debates that these tropes in video games are being used to advance a story, but that does not mean that they might not send subliminal messages. They, just like "Find the Skull of Gygax" and "Kill 10 rats" are methods of giving players an objective and motivation, but Damsel in Distress also reflects on the character one is being asked to rescue.
“When Blizzard developers quickly needed some new foe, they turned the long-term allies of the players, the Zandalari trolls into a world-conquering evil, so they could reuse the Zul Gurub and Zul Aman instances. Isn't it funny that feminists whine that a female character is abused as story object when whole civilizations are abused?”
Another permutation of the first argument, how dare people be offended when it’s happening to someone else!The problem is that the Zandalari (ignoring for now that they are playing off potentially racist stereotypes) are a fictional race and species, which does not have a human, real-life history of being oppressed. This is the same reason no one bats an eye when we slaughter other fictional races/species. 99% of the time the players are reacting to the actions of the faction we’re killing. Zandalari started trying to summon antagonistic spirits, the Locust came up from underground, the Zerg started chewing on human planets, and the list goes on. There are very few games in which the player is the aggressor (the only arguable one I can think of is Spec Ops: The Line which paints a very negative image of war). Furthermore, there is a distinct difference between a damsel in distress and factions like the Zandalari. We are fighting against the Zandalari because there is aggression; the Zandalari have agency and are able to express it. They can fight us, and even beat us if our group performs poorly. While it is scripted, in the context of the story they are able to act. A damsel in distress is an object; the story states that she is taken, and she otherwise is unable to express any meaningful agency in the story.

This is basically just a rehash of “What about t3h menz? Men die in games too!” the problem is that the men you kill in games usually have agency of their own; they are other soldiers who are able and choose to engage the protagonist. Often they are shown to be dangerous, powerful, and strong…otherwise they wouldn’t be worth fighting. Soldiers that die alongside you are often your comrades, they die fighting. Let’s take Halo: Reach as an example…every non-player male Spartan dies in combat (one of them takes out half a dozen special elites in the process), the only female one dies to a sniper shot from a relatively weak enemy. Soldiers are usually fighting beside you, Damsels are usually abducted with little true resistance, or, if they are "fridged", often die from helpless positions.
“The sexism of the video games is just a symptom of what's rotten in video games… No, because like everything in the game her only purpose is to serve the desire of the player to be rewarded for his inadequate and mediocre performance.”
This is a strained connection, that somehow sexism in video games is a result of a “casualization” or “overnerfing” of games to suit some audience desire to get something without merit. I won’t go into how it strawmans the “casual” gamer of wanting everything handed to him, when in truth it’s probably more a situation of that gamer wanting a challenge relevant to his/her skill level. Frankly, we outspoken minority of bloggers most often fall on the higher end of the skill Gaussian, so it’s easy to sit in our ivory tower and talk about how games are catering to “casuals”. The reality is that developers are aiming for the middle range of that Gaussian, which is their actual customer base.
I could spend more time here, but this post was meant to deal with the feminism argument, so I’ll stop.

Once more, on the topic of the damsel, the issue is not that the trope exists, it’s that it is overused.
“However it is still just a consequence. The games aren't made this way by some evil mastermind trying to corrupt the good and healthy youth into a bunch of entitled, leeching punks. They are just following the demand.”
No, they are made primarily by men who dominated the computer science field during the time when games were first emerging. Most likely the majority of it is done because they don’t know any better, or was due to lazy writing, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse it.

The “demand” is some nebulous concept that people often claim defends their view, but no one can point to a statistic to prove it. What we do know is that developers tell us things like “Games with female protagonists don’t sell” which is patently false given the success of games in which players can choose, or games like Tomb Raider (the newer one). Instead, we apparently count on the CEOs and marketing teams of publishers to tell us what the “demand” is, when in large part they can’t even identify what their customer base wants anymore (just look at all the backlash towards Xbox One’s various features). I’ve yet to see any solid evidence that shows that games with female protagonists, if given ample budget, will always sell worse than games with male ones.

So a bunch of business men are claiming that there is no demand, and yet these are the same people who keep rehashing Call of Duty and Madden, then wondering why their customers are complaining that there is nothing new. Remember, new IP’s are a dwindling portion of games these days, as companies take the safe road. This creates a shield of “it’s too risky” to justify any behavior they don’t want to do.

Given the amount of outcry, I would posit that the demand indeed exists, and that the games would do just fine if given the same budget and marketing that other triple-A titles receive. Thus far, this has not really happened and it will be difficult to measure. With specific regards to my goblin friend, I doubt the so-called leeches are specifically demanding damsels in distress….especially since the game that epitomizes “leeches” for him, actually has been much better about quests featuring fewer damsels (at least, up to Cataclysm, I’ve not played Mists).
“What can the feminists do, besides whining and demanding developers fix it against their financial interests?”
This keeps getting stated as though it’s had no effect, and yet things have been changing, which somewhat suggests that the “whining” is actually working because it is making people aware. As I said before, often this problem is a result of ignorance, so making it heard allows people to change their behavior.

As it turns out, when called out on bad behavior, people sometimes change it. Against their financial interest? It remains to be seen if it actually is.
“(It's funny that Sarkeesian doesn't notice that by asking the developers/Holywood to get rid of the sexism she is declaring herself and women in general damsels in distress who can only be saved by the powerful men at the helm of media companies.)”
This shows a critical misunderstanding of the trope. Sarkeesian is not a damsel because she is able to act with agency by making her videos, she is able to act by choosing to purchase games which are more in line with her ideals, she is able to encourage developers to change their attitudes, she is able to encourage women to move into development positions. Damsels in distress typically have NO agency, they sit in a cage, and would continue to sit if the hero never arrived. By calling out others on their behavior and asking them to change, a person is not becoming a damsel, they are expressing an opinion, an act of agency.
Modified Martin Niemöller quote…
I am not even quoting it because it misses the point of the quote so horribly. Niemöller was referring to the Nazi’s coming for various groups and silencing them, and because others were apathetic and did not speak out, that when they were the last left, no one spoke for them. The quote is chastising the apathetic. The problem is, many of the people the Goblin’s version is referring to are actively against the people crying out for less sexism. Plenty of players (including those in his own comments) are all for the idea of damsels in distress, bikini-plate, reduced stats for female characters, etc. 

This isn’t an issue of a series of similarly aligned groups (the original quote refers to communists, socialists, then trade unionists…which makes it all the more ironic that the goblin used it) being eliminated one by one. This is not a matter of having no one left to speak for you, it’s that the people are actively speaking against you. While surely you should advocate, there are a myriad of opinions in each of the issues the goblin listed, and with variation among each one…the original quote often listed groups that were mutually exclusive (difficult to be both Jewish and Catholic).
“Give it instead to games where players progress according to their merits. In EVE Online there is absolutely no sexism or even male-normality programmed in. Sure there are horribly sexists morons among the players, since the playerbase is largely the same as of the other games (even if they think otherwise).”
So basically, space libertarianism will save us all, because everyone is solely judged on their merit. This is the same game currently flipping its shit over the promotion of a female vlogger to a community representative position. A game that just the other day was revealed to have a 96% male population. Correlation might not MEAN causation, but it certainly waves a sign in a particular direction that reads “CHECK HERE!” Perhaps it might suggest that EVE is not as sexually progressive as one might think.

The fact that it doesn’t appear that way TO YOU is actually a symptom of the concept of privilege. I am familiar with it, I am a SAWCSM (stands for Straight, Able-bodied, White, CiSgendered, Male if I recall correctly), meaning I basically enjoy every single privilege there can possibly be (including youth, if we add age privilege). However, perhaps a community where “Male until proven otherwise” is the standard, where “show us yer tits!” is a common response to the presence of a woman, or rape jokes are common fare, or a community welcome thread has to be closed due to some serious harassment when a woman is promoted to community rep, might not be as “nondiscriminatory” as one thinks.

I know that the IDEAL of true libertarianism sounds great, but it is not compatible with reality. I wish it were, I wish we could live in a world where everyone was judged 100% on their merits, not on their gender, skin, height, marital status. One day we might reach that, but we are not at a technological or social level to do so yet.

People will surely respond to that saying things like “Women don’t like Sci-fi”, when women are easily one of the larger sci-fi audiences, or that “Women don’t like competition or corporate games” when women in charge of real world corporations perform just a well as men. Plus, “women” are not so entity that has a collective hive mind. I don’t like Baseball or Basketball, but other men do. Some women like crocheting, some like anime, some like video games involving corporate espionage; maybe it’s a smaller group, but perhaps its size isn’t due to lack of interest, but a community and culture that actively alienates it?
“PS to feminists…”
While I am glad the goblin does not disagree with the cause or goal, saying that there are not theoretical points, scholars, or literature is basely untrue. Sexism comes from a variety of factors, not just because some people want to be rewarded/respected without effort. Though the paragraph does begin to recognize the concept of privilege; this idea of “the only way to fix it is to beat them” would be true in a perfectly merit focused world, but in the world of gaming, if you are a woman, everything you do is automatically suspect. So you have to work twice as hard to get half as far, because of that added burden of not just winning, but also proving that it wasn’t a handout, proving that the person wasn’t just going easy, the list could go on forever. I won’t address the rest about how it is impossible in games where everyone is a winner because I discussed it above…there are plenty of ways to make everyone a winner without repeatedly using sexist tropes.
 “Men started this hobby, you don’t see us complaining that makeup is marketed to women.”
This was not written by the goblin, but one of the commentators, and I am afraid it is perhaps a perfect demonstration of how to miss a point so much you end up behind where you started. Sure, men started the hobby; when Pong was released in 1972 women were vastly underrepresented in colleges, and even more so in STEM fields. Who else WAS THERE to create it but men? This is verging into post hoc ergo propter hoc territory, it assumes that women would not have wanted to create games because they didn’t, despite the fact that the circumstances made it highly unlikely that they would even have the training or opportunities to do so.

The idea that video games are a mainstream hobby is very new; only in the last decade has it become “normal” for the average person to have played a video game. However the people that started the industry are still the ones in power. Women are taking development positions, and there is a push to get girl’s to go into STEM majors despite the negative stigma associated with it. A man would probably say “Nothing is stopping them,” but look at the treatment that many women in STEM positions are put in…they’re often one of few, and treated as other, often accused of only being there because they are women. Even when they DO get into development positions, they are often one of few. I don’t care who you are, if you are in a room full of people, many of them your superiors, and you are the ONLY one with a problem with something, you aren’t going to find it easy to speak up, especially if it is about an issue you can be fairly sure they will dismiss…not when your job and livelihood is on the line. There being enough women in development and writing positions for them to be able to speak up is a NEW thing. In the linked article, the writing team did not even REALIZE what they had done until it was pointed out…and in the past (and in some cases, right now), many would have just brushed it off.

I don’t see a huge demand by men for makeup anyways, and where there is, the demand is filled. Conversely, there is demand by women to get into video games, and it’s flat out stupid to suggest that just because men started the video game industry that they should have permanent and unchallenged dominion, and that if women don’t like it they should go somewhere else. What are we, children? We don’t get to declare an entire media space off limits. I feel like I am hearing “Well…some popular girls teased me for being a nerd in school, and now they want in but I don’t want to let them!” Aside from this being a childish and vindictive response, it’s also inaccurate and assumptive. What about the “nerdy” girls? They existed, even though you wouldn’t give them the time of day because they were just as awkward and shy as you. Why should they be punished? Should men be banned from any activities started by women because one time a man teased a woman about it? Seems like a stupid reason to me.

What people don’t seem to get is, that no one is saying that you can NEVER EVER EVER have some of these tropes; only that they need to be used and depicted more responsibly, that they might be sending negative messages about the people they depict, and that there are other ways to motivate a character. None of this denies that there may also be issues with how we depict male characters either, and while it is interrelated, it is another topic, for another discussion.

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